Trump has a habit of rubbing his allies up the wrong way. After annoying Europe and worrying Asian partners, he is now upsetting peace in the Middle East. Far from allowing his son-in-law to bring peace to the Middle East, Trump has decided that he’s going to intrude on one of the thorniest issues in one of the most volatile regions in the world: Jerusalem.
The issue in question is the promise to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the city of Jerusalem. In one move, Trump threatens to upset nearly seventy years of US diplomacy in a move that almost every country in the world has condemned. The questions and controversy over Israel have plagued politicians, diplomats, and statesmen for decades and now Trump demonstrates his total lack of forethought and understanding of
There are several reasons why this is a very unpopular, controversial and potentially dangerous move. For one thing, Jerusalem is unique in being a city without a country. When the state of Israel was established, the city was divided into two, the Israelis living the West and the Palestinians in the East. Both sides claimed the city as their capital. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War saw East Jerusalem annexed by Jordan only for Israel to take the East in 1967 during the Six-Day War.
Although Israel has a stronger claim of sovereignty over the city, the move has never been recognized internationally, hence the decision by the US to keep their embassy in Tel Aviv. In fact, Jerusalem hosts no foreign embassies in the city.
The problem becomes clearer when one looks into the two-state solution. The status of Jerusalem is one of the key points of negotiations with Palestinians claiming East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The status of the city is meant to be discussed in the final stages of negotiations which have been silent for some time after John Kerry’s failed mission in 2014.
What makes the issue particularly contentious is the fact that Jerusalem is religiously significant to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. East Jerusalem contains much of Old Jerusalem where sites such as the Western Wall and Temple of the Mount are holy sites for Jews. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is supposed to be the site where Jesus was crucified and also contains location of the tomb where he was buried. The Dome of the Rock holds significance for both Jews and Muslims as it marks the place where Jews believe that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Muslims consider it the spot where the Prophet Muhammed began his famous midnight journey to heaven. The al-Aqsa mosque is considered the third most important religious site for Muslims.
As such, Jerusalem is such problematic issue, that no Palestinian politician or Arab leader would dare to touch it unless the need was great. Never before has the need been greater than this.
Trump is once again throwing a bone to his right-wing base by fulfilling an ill-advised campaign promise. Perhaps emboldened by his recent successes, he has made his base and the Israeli government very happy. The latter will see that their reluctance to negotiate with the Palestinians is justified and even rewarded by the USA. It will also anger Israel’s many enemies, ranging from Egypt and Lebanon to Saudi Arabia. Turkey has threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel if the move goes ahead while many in Europe are in shock once again.
In one stroke, Trump has legitimatized many of Israel’s less-than-noble actions, moves that the international community has deemed illegal such as the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the settlement of Jews on Palestinian territory. He had shot through any hope of talking over the two-state solution being resumed, much less followed through. It disqualifies the USA as a broker for peace and distrust in America’s role in the Middle East will only grow stronger.
Once again, Trump has let a short-sighted chance of victory override long-term thinking. Breaking with decades of diplomatic thinking in the course of a week never ends well for anyone. No one can undo the damage that Trump’s implicit recognition of Israel’s position has done. Much like a heated argument between a married couple, once you’ve said something terrible, you can’t take it back.
Israel will grow bolder and the Palestinians will grow angrier. Many of America’s Arab allies, all of whom support the Palestinian cause, will be upset by developments and mistrustful of America’s intentions. The complex web of friendships and alliances will start to fray at a time when America cannot afford to lose friends. Trump will hail this a promise fulfilled while future presidential candidates face the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess.
Much like the run-up to the First World War, the major players of the Middle East are standing around a powder keg and Trump has just thrown a lit match into the mix.